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Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina

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3.94  ·  Rating details ·  334 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
In 2009, when Raquel Cepeda almost lost her estranged father to heart disease, she was terrified she’d never know the truth about her ancestry. Every time she looked in the mirror, Cepeda saw a mystery—a tapestry of races and ethnicities that came together in an ambiguous mix. With time running out, she decided to embark on an archaeological dig of sorts by using the scien ...more
ebook, 336 pages
Published March 5th 2013 by Atria Books
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Raquel Cepeda
Feb 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-book
This is my book and I loved the entire ritual of writing and process reading each draft. More Latina-Americans have to document their stories!
David Dacosta
It’s impossible to not to be reminded of Junot Diaz while reading author Raquel Cepeda’s generational tale of family, culture and identity. The obvious comparisons reside in the fact that like Diaz, Cepeda is also a product of Dominican heritage. Her decision to intersperse the narrative with D.R. Spanish and doses of crude vernacular further supports this reasoning. Still, we cannot fairly assign the ownership of all things Dominican Republic to the now famous Pulitzer recipient. Nor can we den ...more
Melinda Goodman
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Raquel Cepeda was a student in one of my poetry workshops in the mid 1990’s at Hunter College. She was already an exceptional writer when she came into the workshop and one of the poems that she wrote during that semester has stuck in my mind ever since. I was finally able to contact her a few weeks ago hoping to get a copy of that poem to share with my current Hunter College students. It turned out that Raquel still has a copy of that poem and she also informed me of a new book that she has wri ...more
Roger DeBlanck
Jul 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The courage to unearth one’s personal trauma in a memoir has always been an ability that both impresses and baffles me. In Bird of Paradise, Cepeda utilizes the testimonial approach with great candor and honesty to excavate her painful youth in order to confront it. In her preface to the book she states, “Our identities are as fluid as our personal experiences are diverse.” That statement captures the essence of this emotionally-charged memoir.

Part one of the book mostly recounts the physical a
...more
Cynda
I had breakfast with some of my aunts and cousins today. I mentioned this book, saying that Cepeda had used DNA testing to understand some of her genealogy, saying that we should encourage my dad to do DNA testing for our family. I found out he did. On my dad's side: Southeastern European, Jewish, African, and a tiny bit Native American. I had one great-grandmother was was called "la india" (the Indian). So now I know what I have longoing suspected. Something I will talk more about in my What-Do ...more
Amanda
Jul 09, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Being a Dominican-American New Yorker and having had an insatiable hunger to learn more about my family's own ancestral past and Dominican history for as long as I can remember, so much of Bird of Paradise resonated with me. So much so that for much of Part 2, I felt like Cepeda was speaking directly to me. In all my research and personal investigation of both Dominican and my own family's histories, I felt like so many of the observations she made about Dominican culture, identity and perceptio ...more
Janeen
Oct 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best books of 2013.
A truly fantastic memoir that is rich in honesty, self-discovery and curiosity. Part One of the book, Cepeda expounds on her background, detailing how she lived in New York, Santo Domingo and San Francisco in her formative years. Her time as a youth wasn't easy--reading her interactions with her mother and father will give you a soul cry. As you read part one, her spirit seems palpable despite the circumstances. Understanding her life really sets up a beautiful back
...more
Jose
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book found a way to integrate memoir writing with historical narrative in a way few books I've read concerning culture (specially Latino culture) know how to do. While some suffer from bad writing and others lean too much on personal experience, Cepeda's book lends itself to an understanding of Latinos as a whole through her personal journey in a way that demands the reader walk in her shoes. Her journey from a traumatized child to journalist / filmmaker is interwoven with the history of hi ...more
Priscilla Zabala
Nov 25, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
In my opinion, this story was not for me. It contained a lot of inappropriate content, and was very depressing. I began reading this story and learned that some of the characters were very strange, based on their choices in life, and it was very sad. There were times when I was reading this story that I needed to cover my mouth due to the insanity taking place in this story. I also needed to splash my face with water to calm myself down and to prevent myself from crying.

The story was about a yo
...more
Jordan
Apr 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: roots
WOW. All latinos should read this book, regardless of where they find themselves within the diaspora. SO IMPORTANT.
Danielle
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was younger, I’d imagine what would happen
If my parents had stayed in Puerto Rico
Who would I be if I had never seen Manhattan
If I lived in Puerto Rico with my people
My people!

I feel like all my life I’ve tried to find the answer
Working harder, learning Spanish, learning all I can
I thought I might find the answer out at Stanford
But I’d stare out at the sea
Thinking, where’m I supposed to be?


- Lin-Manuel Miranda, from the song "When You're Home" from In the Heights

As a Latina who's never rea
...more
Amanda
Apr 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book continued to provide well beyond what I ever expected it would. The first part is a intriguing memoir of the author's pre-conception and childhood years, written as smoothly and enticingly as fiction. The author consistently incorporates themes of Dominican culture, early hip hop and spirituality throughout. In the second part she shifts gears and delves into finding out the facts about her genetic makeup, telling the story of her research and DNA testing. All of the information, as it ...more
Chris
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-memoir
This is a great and eye-opening book! Raquel Cepeda writes with clarity, passion, sensitivity, and humor about her difficult childhood surrounded by very-human characters, and also of the conflicts and paradoxes in the lives of people of color. Her driving curiosity about her racial background and the history of her ancestors leads to the DNA search she describes in the second half of the book, and which is very interesting. I recommend this to anyone who is curious about life in NYC in modern d ...more
Delphia
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-books
Bird of Paradise was amazing. This really resonated with me as I am mixed race, the book hit very close to home in many ways. Raquel Cepeda weaves a fantastically good story detailing her experiences growing up, trying to fit in at school, and even with her family. Her father's health becomes a jumping off point to have her DNA analyzed and find out who she is and how she will define herself. This is probably my favorite first book I have won yet. The books is smart, witty, heartbreaking, and ly ...more
Vanessa
Loved Raquel's story~ part memoir, part cultural, spiritual, scientific investigation. The book raises great issues about race, culture, and relationships. Her journey brings to mind my own journey of how I'm who I am: as a Latina, Mexican American, American, Chicana. Who am I? Who are we? Can that be defined? Perhaps it depends on where we are or our environment... Family, friends, enemies, pop culture, music, language- all morph us into what and who we are and represent. Her book is an importa ...more
Melody Moezzi
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written. I enjoyed every minute...so much so that I wrote a review for Ms. Magazine about it. I posted it once before I believe, and I think including the link prevented my review from posting, so instead of linking to it, I'll just say--google my name and Raquel Cepeda and Ms. Magazine, and you should find it easily! If you're not willing to do that, just know that the book is fantastic.
Regina Sheerin
Aug 30, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Poorly written and half formed (and half-witted) opinions. Showy and vulgar writing. A pastiche of politically correct, juvenile and rabid impressions poorly interwoven. Que lastima, por que en un tema importante y fuerte.
Aisha Francis-Samuels
Cepeda's book is part memoir, part travel journal, and part infomercial for Family Tree DNA. I'm not mad at her for it, but it's kind of a hustle that this company gave her free tests and perhaps even funded her trip around the world for a year while she traveled to the places that her DNA test showed her to be connected to.

Ultimately, the text is honest in its portrayal of the lengths some people of mixed race origin go to to deny any part of them that is African or Indigenous while playing up
...more
Maya
Jan 03, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: imlorelei@yahoo.com
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rasheem Johnson
I'm too much of a pessimist to have patience for a memoir with magical/spiritual elements. I don't believe a word of this crap. The hip hop stuff and personal stories are cool - save for the excessive tales of torture and abuse. Those personal stories and vivid descriptions of New York life in the late 80s/early 90s was what really kept me engaged. Unfortunately, part 2 of this memoir takes a drastic turn for the worst, trading in everything that made part 1 work and most of what made this a "me ...more
Laura
Feb 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I particularly loved about this book was the second half where she explored her own ancestors and ideas around ancestry.
Stephanie Lorenzo
I loved the format of the book, the first half was the author's background story and the second half focus' on her journey in finding herself and her DNA roots. I enjoyed it very much!
Helen
I recently read a comment by Bonnie LeRoy, a professor in genetic counselling, in a newspaper article on personal genomics: "people don't feel grounded unless they have an idea of who they are through their genes". I don't know anything about the hip-hop culture in which Cepeda has made a name for herself, or what it's like to be a person "of multiple races" (her words) in a white-dominated society. I do know what it's like to not feel grounded, to be part of a family displaced and scattered aro ...more
Lucero
Oct 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
After it taking me all summer to finally read this book, I think that it wrapped up nicely from all my roller coaster emotions. I follow Raquel and even her daughter Djali on social media (we have mutual friends and sometimes tend to run in the same circles, although we haven't met), so sometimes I felt like I was reading about the life of people I actually knew. However, it's safe to say that I don't really know these two women, but I got a glimpse into the life of Raquel.

Sometimes during her
...more
Margie
Jan 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: california
A brief interview with Raquel Cepeda:

http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/05/01/new-bo...

Terrific book. Cepeda's background in journalism shines; she's adept at storytelling, and uses it to great effect in this book, where she seamlessly shares her personal story and examines race in a more academic way.

Cepeda's personal story is both fascinating and horrific. Her journey toward a racial identity has a backdrop of living in both the Dominican Republic and New York, hip hop, abandonment by her mother, and ab
...more
blereader
This book is ripping up my insides. I've read horrible things before--A Long Way Gone, La Ciudad y los Perros, Redefining Realness. For all those books, I had to put them down at different points before picking them up again. For this book, Bird of Paradise, I keep having to put the book down at least once per chapter. The tales of madness and violence come one after another, after another, to the point that it's just stupefying. When I started reading, I was thinking to criticize this book for ...more
Mel
Mar 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars
I don't think I can articulate how much I liked this book. It resonated with me for so many reasons. I admire the way Raquel pulled no punches when talking about her parents (or anything really). She didn't sugar coat anything. The way she described NYC, her upbringing, her classmates, the way hip hop spoke to her (we are from the same generation), her journey to finding out who she was. I cringed when she described the abuse she and her mother endured at the hands of her mothers boyfri
...more
Toni
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was already familiar with Raquel Cepeda from her work as a hip-hop journalist and was interested to hear more of her personal story. As a Latina from the Dominican Republic, Cepeda explores the concepts of race, culture and belonging in the telling of her and her family's history.

The first part of her book is pure memoir: from her parents' doomed relationship and how it affected her childhood, to her escape into the world of a burgeoning hip-hop movement, Cepeda writes honestly about her ident
...more
Ramona
May 24, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read, although not as relatable as I anticipated as a Dominican born New Yorker. I commend the author for her bravery in sharing her story so openly and I admire her ability to mend her relationship with her father, in spite of their past toxic history. I suppose I was looking to find more of a common ground as a Dominican woman living in New York, but I found her experience dissimilar to my own, growing up in New York City. Perhaps, it’s a generational difference? Nevertheless, Domi ...more
Daniel S
"Maybe we do have a little something in common. We have both dealt with our past by not talking about it and, perhaps consequently, have grown equally detached." [pg. 148]

"I look over at Dad, still adrift in trying to imagine that cute little boy in the picture, suffering. I don't think that child could have imagined he'd grow up to become the same kind of animal he detested." [pg. 171]

"For some, excavating the past isn't in adventure, it's more akin to tearing a Band-Aid off an open wound." [pg
...more
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Born in Harlem to Dominican parents, award-winning journalist, podcaster, and documentary filmmaker Raquel Cepeda is the author of Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina. Equal parts memoir about Cepeda’s coming of age in New York City and Santo Domingo, and detective story chronicling her year-long journey to discover the truth about her ancestry, the book also looks at what it means to be Latina ...more
More about Raquel Cepeda...

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“I have never bought into the idea that blood is thicker than water. Love and respect are meant to be earned from our children, our spouses, our families, and our friends.” 64 likes
“Shakespeare had it right all along: Love will kill you in the end.” 34 likes
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